If you drive down 72nd Street in Omaha on a Thursday morning, you’ll see people holding signs in support of immigrants detained on the U.S.-Mexico border. We call ourselves Mothers & Others: Mercy and Justice for Immigrants. And we invite compassionate Nebraskans to join us not only in advocating for immigrants, including those who work in our meatpacking plants and on our farms, but also in seeking justice for Honduras, so that people there won’t be forced to flee to the United States.
Last month, eight U.S. senators introduced the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2021 in the U.S. Senate. Why? Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who co-sponsored the bill, said that it counters the “alarming corruption and human rights abuses that are being committed at the highest levels of the Honduran government.”
I am a Sister of Mercy who has spent time with our community in Honduras, and seen firsthand the horrific conditions the people endure. I have also served as an observer for one of three elections-- all blatantly stolen -- since a 2009 coup in the country. And I’ve participated in fact-finding and “root causes” delegations in an effort to understand why so many Hondurans risk dangerous, grueling journeys to the U.S. with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Some Nebraskans, like many other U.S. citizens, are unsympathetic to immigrants. Some are confused, angry and even frightened by images of our southern border being overrun by “caravans” of people seeking U.S. asylum. “Why don’t they stay in their own country?” is a question occasionally hurled at the Mothers & Others group during our weekly witness.
The truth is the U.S. government is part of the problem. It supported the 2009 coup in Honduras -- and it continues to provide financial aid to the country’s latest illegitimate president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of providing direct support to, and accepting bribes from, drug traffickers.
Nebraskans who care about justice and illegal immigration should urge Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse to support the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2021. The legislation calls for 1) suspension of U.S. military and police aid to Honduras; 2) a prohibition on certain munitions sales, including tear gas, pepper spray and tasers, to Honduran security forces; 3) sanctions on President Juan Orlando Hernandez; 4) $2 million to support the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights office in Honduras; and 5) renewal of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity.
Gangs -- working with corrupt police -- and drugs are too often a “solution” to desperate poverty in Honduras. For over a year, I visited a Honduran grandmother in a county jail in Nebraska, detained after seeking U.S. asylum. Her family had been stalked and assaulted by gangs in her native country. What would any of us do if we could not protect our loved ones in our own country?
The Senate bill also shines a light on the persecution of people trying to defend their land and water from international corporations. And it complements the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, reintroduced in the House of Representatives to respond to the tragic (and still unpunished) murder of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental and indigenous rights leader and mother.
These days Hondurans are battling not only a dictatorial government, but also extreme weather -- such as two November hurricanes which destroyed more than 6,000 homes. But no amount of relief aid will help people if political repression isn’t addressed.
Nebraskans are the descendants of brave men and women who came to this state in search of better lives. Compassion for each other ensured that our pioneer ancestors -- many of them immigrants -- survived and flourished. In true American spirit, let’s respond compassionately to our Honduran brothers and sisters.
Please insist that our U.S. senators and representatives support the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2021 and the Berta Cáceres Act. These bills enable our country to right its past support for repressive Honduran regimes, alleviate suffering, and stem mass immigration from Honduras into the United States.
Kathleen Erickson, RSM, is a Sister of Mercy who lives in Omaha. She has spent nearly 20 years ministering on the U.S.-Mexico border and receiving delegations there to help U.S. citizens understand border issues and root causes of immigration. She has visited undocumented immigrants in federal and for-profit detention centers and county jails.